When revolutionaries fall out
Things seem to have got a tad messy on the Voice over IP front with one of challengers calling the incumbent a coward and the incumbent talking about protecting its users and being responsible. Oh, the irony. By Ian Scales.
It’s almost Orwellian the way wheel turns on these things. This is war by blog post. Skype, one-time disruptive force in the global telecommunications industry, practically the inventor of the peer-to-peer voice over IP business, is being accused of ditching its openness principles and using its market power to try and disrupt the business of an upcoming rival, that’s according to VoIP player Fring (the upcoming rival) through a blog post.
The problem which sparked the spat lay with Fring’s video chat client, freshly approved for the latest iPhone (the one with the back-facing camera). That resulted in lots of downloads, lots of use and apparently a load-spike on Skype (and Skype’s carrier partners’ networks) with which Fring has open interconnect. If you’re on Fring you can (could!) call Skype and vice versa – that’s all part of the VoIP game.
The big difference between Skype and Fring though, is that Skype’s video calling doesn’t involve the mobile data channel, but must be made on WiFi. Fring’s offering is 3G based (and the company is still slightly stunned that Apple and it’s network partner for the iPhone, AT&T, passed the app).
As a result of all the client downloads from the Appstore a Skype-spike occurred which lead Skype to cut Fring users off (according to Fring). This was deemed outrageous by Fring whose leading lights got emotional about the whole thing and ended up blogging that Skype were cowards and were going against openness principles.
Skype, sounding coldly restrained and a tad incumbent-like, said in its blog that this was all overwrought and untrue. It had taken action to protect its brand and its own customers because Fring’s app was using Skype in a way it wasn’t supposed to be used.
That last sentence sounds SO like the sort of language used just a few years ago by network operators trying to block Skype, an irony not lost on Fring’s management – hence the bile.
We spoke to with Fring’s VP of Marketing, Jake Levant (there’s a request out to Skype too, but so far no comment. We’ll update the story if and when it comes).
According to Levant it’s all a bit of a shame and it will be the users of both services who are going to suffer from legal battles. “The thing that burns about this is that we’re pushing freedom here, we’re changing the world and the people that are going to get hurt by a legal battle are the users,” he says.
So can the business relationship be resumed between Fring and Skype, or is this a schism that can’t be mended? “We will be thrilled to reconnect,” says Levant, but he makes clear it has to be on an ‘open basis “We have nine other relationships with other networks, too.”
The company that comes out of the saga best is Apple, says Levant, that doyen of openness (not) which enabled the whole thing by passing the Fring app for download in the iPhone appstore. That was “a gutsy move,” says Levant, “because they have a video product called ‘Facetime’ and our product is clearly a competitor.” But then maybe Apple is wary about who it blocks and who it doesn’t. It wasn’t that long ago that it got into deep trouble with the authorities by not passing another VoIP app – developed, of course, by Skype.